Musicians Protest Use of Canned Music at Paul Taylor Dance Company

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 04:09 PM

Musicians staged a rally in front of Lincoln Center Tuesday night to protest the Paul Taylor Dance Company's use of canned music to accompany its performances.

About 35 musicians from Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians handed out fliers and in one case, played the violin, as audiences arrived for the dance company's first show in a three-week run at the David H. Koch Theater.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Tino Gagliardi, the president of Local 802, said the union had approached the Paul Taylor Dance Company late last year to request that it begin using live musical accompaniment, arguing that recorded music has never previously had a significant place on Lincoln Center's stages. The company says it doesn't have the budget.

"For me, it's a specious argument because when you're dealing with the payroll budget of an orchestra of 30 or 40 musicians, that would cost them maybe a buck or two from every ticket they sell," said Gagliardi.

In a statement, the dance company said it remains open to discussion and that while it strives to have live music, it doesn't currently have the resources to support it. "While it has always been our goal to have live music at Lincoln Center, unfortunately we were unable to find the resources in the current economy," said executive director John Tomlinson in the statement.

Some audience members arriving Tuesday night said that they were surprised to learn about the use of recordings and would prefer live music to accompany dancer's pirouettes. But a few said they didn't feel they should absorb the cost of an orchestra in higher ticket prices.

Margolit, who would give only her first name, said she wouldn’t have a problem with recorded music for certain genres. “If it's electronic music it just has to be canned,” she said. When asked if she would avoid a dance performance using taped classical music she said, "No, I’d probably go, but it’s a little cheesy.”

Richard Sittinger, who was arriving for the Metropolitan Opera, argued that recordings rob live performance of its unpredictability. “There’s just a part of it that’s not happening in front of you,” he said. “The reason for going to the theater is that it’s an experience that’s happening then. Otherwise, I’ll go to a movie.”

Tuesday marked the Paul Taylor Dance Company's first show at the David H. Koch Theater after it vacated City Center in midtown last year. The union said the company, which was founded in 1954, began cutting back on live music in the 1990s and eventually dissolved their orchestra. Today they dance to tape except for an occasional gala performance or premiere.

"We feel this is a new ballgame," said Sara Cutler, a harpist in New York City Ballet Orchestra and the union negotiating committee chair. "To bring a major dance company to Lincoln Center and allow them to produce a season with no live music, which is arguably an integral part of seeing dance, we find that unacceptable."

The union wrote a letter to Lincoln Center's management and board calling on the arts complex to require live music for major performances in order to "consistently offer the highest quality performance possible." Spokeswoman Eileen McMahon said Lincoln Center has no authority to decide the content of any renter's programs.

Tuesday night's performance featured dances set to music by Handel, Bach, Ponchielli and Piazzolla.

Weigh in: Does it matter if a dance company uses live or recorded music? Please leave your comments below.

Updated 3/13, 8:30 pm.

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Comments [5]

Being a musician, I am sensing there is a new trend formulating from board rooms all across the country to somehow "save money", in any way the theaters can. It is a shame that they are going to throw out the baby with the bath water. Audiences from Cape Cod, where I live, to NYC and D.C., and basically everywhere, will be, and have been seeing this change.
Operas are being broadcast on large screens with the soundtrack; they seem to like it by the fact that tickets are being sold like hot cakes. I think it's nice that the productions are being seen by a wider audience, the original live music is being shared, although it is digitally replayed, but I'm not sure I really like this trend. I prefer the productions stay in their home theaters to be seen "Live", or travel to another city to share their production. In a perfect world!
Using recorded music on stage at Lincoln Center, or any theater that has become a cultural icon for the arts, to accompany the dance, musical, opera, I think it is a pure shame. I feel this trend will slowly creep into our lives and become the status quo; some we'll all regret. I think that this article above tells just: The Tip of The Iceberg; but bravo for WQXR's Brian Wise!

May. 15 2012 09:14 AM

Live music is super important. I think if this was a smaller market city, this would not be such an issue. But in NYC, home to thousands of musicians each one just as talented and hungry for a gig as the next, this is inexcusable. It's Lincoln Center. It's David Koch. You think they could find some spare change in between the $106 MILLION he has thrown Lincoln Center's way to get a real cat-lady behind the harp. No offense to harpists who own cats.

Mar. 14 2012 01:18 PM
mamafishy from Long Island New York

As an audience member of course I want to see live musicians at every possible performance. And I'm very surprised the dancers themselves have nothing public to say against this. I would have imagined dancers in elite companies must find it very boring/uninspiring/mechanical to work with a recorded track at every performance.

Mar. 14 2012 11:06 AM
mochaleet from Manhattan

This seems to be a case by case issue, depends what is expedient and appropriate. Electronic music, as in "canned/prerecorded" wouldn't necessarily benefit from live musicians, but in the case of classical or jazz, there is a certain claustrophobic and impersonal aural quality to the performance without live musicians. It just is that way. Also, there is a point where someone has to make a point of being a benefactor. We simply have to create and value opportunities for artists, and the pain to the individual and/or corporate sponsors is minimal, considering the benefit.

Mar. 13 2012 07:40 PM
David from Flushing

Ultimately, it will be the audiences that will have to decide whether they want live or recorded music, or if they even care. Broadway has had similar disputes and those related to the size of orchestras. I feel sorry for unemployed musicians, but technology is a hard thing to fight.

Mar. 13 2012 06:31 PM

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